[ExI] Vision, people. Vision!

Anders Sandberg anders at aleph.se
Mon May 20 08:26:13 UTC 2013

OK, shifting again from Mikes descriptive but overly long meta-subject.

I have been thinking about mid-term strategic goals for a while now. 
Back in the day, we tended to think that if we promoted various 
technologies as possible, and the transhumanist idea that they were 
worthwhile eventually sensible people would get it, and we would roar 
towards a transhumanist future. But what has actually become clear is 
that things are a fair bit more complex in real life: acceptance of 
technological possibilities does not mean acceptance of transhumanist 
ideals, many new technologies have troubling risks, and achieving 
transhumanist aims requires getting involved in what can only be called 
politics. Transhumanism has gained a whole bundle of respectable allies 
and enemies, but in many ways it is a complex and fragmentary situation. 
And many of the grandiose ideas we spun in the 90s are today fairly 
mainstream - they percolated out through science fiction into the 
memetic landscape, and are no longer that shocking or radical.

One approach might of course be to try for coming up with new, even more 
radical ideas. Stuff that really blows people's minds. The problem is 
that many of the truly mindblowing things are rather hard to convey - 
quantum computation, acausal trade, and a world of ubiqitious identity 
technology are hard to explain, even if they would really change our 
future. And blowing people's minds is not the primary goal: we want a 
great future, so mere life extension, smarter governance structures and 
atomically precise manufacturing are more important than wowing people 
(unless that wowing somehow gets them to do useful things). Blowing 
minds attracts the swarmers and seekers, while repelling the doers and 

Another approach is to focus. The SENS foundation, FHI and MIRI are 
quite successful in what they do because they focus on a few things, 
find funding, and become good at them. General movements and networks 
will rarely achieve this, since they are too diffuse in their aims and 
typically lack administrative cohesion. Having people actually work out 
projects or theories in detail and getting supporters bringing them 
about or spreading the knowledge does matter.

A third way, which I think has not happened much yet, is to deliberately 
look for a new transhumanist vision. Yes, there have been rebrandings 
and all sorts of wonderful expressions of transhumanism as art, 
movements and proclamations. But most have lacked that cohesive vision 
that gives you a fire in your belly. It is not enough to write a grand 
manifesto, it has to hang together logically and probably appear at the 
right time and place. That last part is important: current transhumanism 
emerged during the liminal period in the early 90s where the old Cold 
War order of the world was breaking up and a new one formed - such 
periods are great opportunities for new memes to become part of the 
Zeitgeist. We missed the 911 transformation, which was probably just as 
well. But where is the next liminal appearing? We want to be there and 
seed it.

Anders Sandberg,
Future of Humanity Institute
Oxford Martin School
Faculty of Philosophy
Oxford University

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